Tag Archives: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

My Thoughts on: The Secret of NIMH (1982)

*I’m really sorry I’ve been slow with blog posts in recent days, life has been crazy this past week but I’m going to work hard to get back on track this week, that includes reviewing Dodgeball no matter what. Thanks for being so understanding!

Animated films were practically my entire world when I was growing up. I have fond memories of most of them, but The Secret of NIMH (along with most of Don Bluth’s animated films) holds a distinct place in my memory. I must have been pretty young the first time I saw this film, since it’s in my memory as far back as I can remember.

The story is based on the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (the name was changed to prevent any possible disputes with the makers of Frisbees) and follows Mrs. Brisby, a mouse, as she tries to keep her home safe from a farmer’s plow. Normally she’d just pack the family up and move, but her youngest son is sick with pneumonia and can’t leave the house. That’s the motivation for this dark fantasy story, and it quickly gets darker from there.

The word “dark” to describe this film a lot, because that’s exactly what The Secret of NIMH is: dark! Even the anthropomorphic rats and mice are drawn with a…a sharp grittiness that you just don’t see in Disney (observe the less than welcoming mouth of Auntie Shrew for a case in point, and she’s mean to be a GOOD character). Jenner, the primary villain, is an even bigger example, since he practically oozes menace, even when he’s pretending to be nice. Don’t misunderstand, the animation is exquisite throughout, but there’s no way you’ll mistake this for a Disney film, it’s far too dark (even the colors seem to come from an overall darker color palette).

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Don Bluth, as I’ve said several times before, had a unique viewpoint when it came to animated films. He believed that children could take just about anything in a story so long as there was ultimately a happy ending. That explains why The Secret of NIMH has creatures being brutally squashed underfoot (like the Great Owl killing the spider), stabbed in the back, and even a gruesome example of a throat being cut (that’s what I’m sure the animators were going for, even though the cut looks like it’s in the chest, it feels like it’s meant to be a throat slash). All of these things were burned into my brain from a very young age, but it took me years to understand that what I was feeling was a mild form of trauma, since I was seeing things I shouldn’t have known about for a number of years.

I could honestly go on forever about how traumatizing The Secret of NIMH is (that’s why I created the Disturbing Bluth series), though thankfully the trauma doesn’t stop me from continuing to enjoy it today. However, for the rest of my life, I will always wonder how a film like this was able to be made and marketed for children, containing the dark visuals that it does (only Disney’s The Black Cauldron is darker in my opinion).

If you endured The Secret of NIMH as a child, what did you think about it? Let me know your thoughts about the film in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Disturbing Bluth

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Disturbing Bluth #1: The Secret of NIMH (Overview and Trivia)

I can’t help but feel that I need to apologize for taking so long with this, even though I promised ages ago that it would be starting soon (life has been a little crazy since then). Nevertheless, here I go with a brief overview of the first film in this sister series to Disturbing Disney: The Secret of NIMH (1982)

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The film was based on the 1971 children’s book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien. In broad strokes the plot is largely the same as the film: the widowed mother of a family of mice must figure out how to keep her home safe from the farmer’s plow while her youngest son recovers from pneumonia. She is advised to ask for help from a colony of rats living in the nearby rosebush and discover that they (along with her late husband Jonathan) are actually escaped laboratory rats experimented on by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

For the movie, Mrs. Frisby becomes Mrs. Brisby to avoid being sued by Wham-O (the company who makes Frisbees) over a similar sounding name. The thing is, by the time the decision was made to change the name to Brisby, all of the actors had already recorded their lines. So…the editors manually edited the voice track to make it sound like Brisby and not Frisby. However, it is not completely perfect: listen closely to The Great Owl’s lines, you can almost hear the original pronunciation of the name.

The voice cast contains some acting greats. The previously mentioned Great Owl was voiced by the legendary actor John Carradine (the father of David, Keith and Robert Carradine). The cranky Auntie Shrew was voiced by Hermione Baddely, better known as Madame in The Aristocats (1970). Derek Jacobi (whose film accomplishments are too many to count) is the voice of Nicodemus, the elderly leader of the rats. Dom DeLuise (aka Tiger the cat in An American Tail) is Jeremy the crow. Wil Wheaton (in his film debut) plays Martin, Mrs. Brisby’s oldest son. And Shannen Doherty (of Charmed fame) is also making her debut as the voice of Teresa, the oldest daughter.

This series will break down the more disturbing scenes (and characters) in the film, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

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